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Headteacher of St Edmunds Primary, in Bury St Edmunds, criticises Government over lack of action on ventilation



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A Bury St Edmunds headteacher has criticised the Government over their lack of action in improving ventilation at her school.

Maria Kemble, executive head at St Edmund's Roman Catholic Primary, in Westgate Street, said the school was currently opening windows and doors to improve airflow.

The uniform policy has also been amended to include hoodies and gillets so staff and pupils can stay warm in the winter weather and CO2 monitors were provided by the Government before Christmas.

Maria Kemble, executive head at St Edmund's Catholic Primary, has hit out at the Government over their lack of early action on improving ventilation in the school. Picture: Mark Westley.
Maria Kemble, executive head at St Edmund's Catholic Primary, has hit out at the Government over their lack of early action on improving ventilation in the school. Picture: Mark Westley.

Carbon dioxide monitors help schools understand how well air is circulating in and out of the room, and to decide whether they need to take any additional steps to improve air circulation and ventilation.

But Mrs Kemble said the Government should have provided air filter systems earlier given it had known 'for some time' Covid-19 was an airborne virus 'instead of wasting money on PPE contracts that did not deliver and were a waste of money'.

"If ventilation had been fitted we possibly wouldn't be in the staff crises we are now in," she said.

The Government pledged 8,000 'air cleaning units' to early years, schools and colleges and SEND and Alternative Provision settings earlier this month.
The Government pledged 8,000 'air cleaning units' to early years, schools and colleges and SEND and Alternative Provision settings earlier this month.

"I'm a bit cross when I look at how my staff worked and continue to work."

A Department for Education spokesperson said ventilation was not needed in most schools, only where there was poor air flow which could not be easily improved.

Earlier this month, the Government pledged 8,000 'air cleaning units' across early years, schools, colleges and for SEND and Alternative Provision settings in a bid to stem the flow of Covid-19 and maintain face-to-face learning.

Last week Geoff Barton, former headteacher at King Edward VI, in Bury St Edmunds, and now general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, voiced his concern 8,000 was not enough.

Some schools have had to open windows and doors to maintain a steady airflow during the winter months.
Some schools have had to open windows and doors to maintain a steady airflow during the winter months.

Mrs Kemble said 'at no point' had the Government asked for data on air quality in the school.

"I don't know how they are going to allocate the filters they have said are now available," she said.

It comes in a troublesome week for Boris Johnson, who admitted on Wednesday attending a party at No 10 Downing Street in May 2020, when the country was in lockdown.

Mrs Kemble said given the situation her staff had faced during that time, she was left angry at the revelations.

"Having worked without a break throughout the first lockdown and against all the challenges of keeping learning going, the behaviour of those who should have been leading with integrity and honesty, now makes me feel like schools have been left to face an impossible situation," she said.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: "Schools across the country reopened last week and staff are working tirelessly to ensure settings can stay open for face-to-face learning, and despite the challenges in the first week of term, millions of pupils have returned to be with their friends and teachers.

“Air cleaning units are not needed in the vast majority of classrooms – only where there is poor ventilation that cannot be easily improved.

"Based on feedback from schools that there are only a small number of cases where good ventilation is not possible, we are supplying up to 8,000 air cleaning units from next week.

“Together with mass testing, bringing in supply staff and the hard work of schools and teachers, we are confident that our measures will maximise classroom time for students.”

The spokesperson added in cases where schools had poor ventilation, where quick fixes to improve air flow were not possible, one of the air cleaning units could be made available through an application process.

Successful applications will receive a suitable number of units for their space, based on the information the education setting has provided as part of the application process, they said.